Chair with head on back and figures on rungs
- Chokwe peoples
- late 19th–early 20th century
Indigenous African seats are generally low to the ground and lack back- or armrests. In societies where all were entitled to such furniture, the highest-ranking political and religious officials owned seats that were larger and more elaborate. European chairs, introduced to West Africa by Portuguese merchants in the 16th and 17th centuries, provided appropriate models for Chokwe symbols of power and authority.
In addition to full-sized thrones, Chokwe chiefs had smaller versions that traveled with them on visits to their villages or to the market. This one features a textured backrest decorated with the images of an ancestral chief wearing an elaborate hairstyle or headdress and a pair of medicine-filled horns. Scenes from daily life that symbolize chiefly wealth, power, and justice are carved on the stretchers: travel by boat, a couple copulating, ancestors with arms folded across their chest or hands resting on their knees, and a Chihongo masquerader.
Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.
- University of Iowa Museum of Art, Art & Life in Africa
Learn more about furniture in African cultures